Nov 22, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT
We’ve created a new weekly — or, depending on how motivated we are, perhaps bi-weekly — feature here at the Insider in which your two trusty authors will be engaging in some heated debates over matters of great concern to the Nationals. These are the kind of either/or scenarios that may not ever play out in real life but make for an entertaining discussion nonetheless. They also give Chase and me a chance to take unwarranted shots at each other in a public forum.
So, without further ado, we present the first installment of … drum roll, please … Nats Point/Counterpoint!
THIS WEEK’S DEBATE: IF GIVEN A CHOICE TO SIGN ONLY ONE TO A LONG-TERM EXTENSION, WHO SHOULD THE NATS PICK: BRYCE HARPER OR STEPHEN STRASBURG?
MARK ZUCKERMAN: Wow, gotta love these doomsday scenarios. It’s like the rogue cop character who has 15 seconds to defuse a bomb and has to decide whether to cut the red or the blue wire. It’s unlikely the Nationals will find themselves in this precise scenario some day, but it’s not unreasonable to suggest they may only have the means to retain one of their two historic No. 1 draft picks. And if it did come down to this, I believe they should take Harper over Strasburg, for one simple reason: He’s more of a sure thing. Position players are less likely to suffer career-derailing injuries, not to mention have longer careers regardless of health factors. Obviously, you never know what could happen seven, eight, even 10 years into the future, but Harper sure seems more likely to be worth the money down the road than Strasburg.
CHASE HUGHES: Yikes, is it 2017 yet? The Nationals probably get the shakes just thinking of the day they will have to choose between the two, if that day comes. With Scott Boras involved, however, you know they’ll feel the heat at some point. Thankfully the Nationals have a few years to evaluate both players before deciding which, if either, they want to keep long-term. My instinct would say go with the position player, but Strasburg has proven far more in his time in the majors than Harper has. Strasburg already is an elite pitcher — or at least close to it — while Harper still benefits from the mystery of potential. Also, signing pitchers to extensions instead of position players isn’t always the wrong move. Look at the St. Louis Cardinals. Sure, a lot of letting Albert Pujols walk had to do with his age, but they tend to side with pitching over offense when it comes to spending money, and they are doing just fine. And as far as injuries go, Mark, Harper may need to learn where the walls are before you make that proclamation.
MZ: Are you sure you haven’t run into a wall or two yourself lately, my young friend? You’re more concerned about Harper’s long-term health than Strasburg? Let’s see … Harper crashed into a wall, missed a month and a half and still wound up as one of the most-productive 20-year-olds in history. Strasburg, meanwhile, just had his second elbow surgery by age 25. While you’d certainly hope he never has to deal with that again, the odds aren’t exactly in his favor. And are you really going to try to compare Pujols to Harper in this regard? Albert was entering his age 32 season when he signed with the Angels. Bryce will have just turned 26 when he becomes a free agent!
CH: Well, my head does hurt now after reading your argument. I can’t disagree with the fact that, in general, a pitcher is more of an injury risk than a position player. In almost every case, it is a safer bet to go with the everyday player. But there are exceptions, and players who put their body at risk like Harper can encounter problems. Harper’s hustle has been compared to a lot of players throughout history, but one he’s always reminded me of is Chase Utley. Utley plays harder than just about anybody and he’s paid for it. In this case, I think both players have shown to be injury prone so far in their careers. The difference is Strasburg has proven himself to be an elite player, regardless of his age. Harper is great for 20, but he will have to improve to justify a franchise player’s deal. Strasburg is, at least production-wise, already there.
MZ: Obviously, Harper still has plenty of room to grow. But I’ve yet to hear anyone even remotely suggest he won’t get there, and soon. Barring injury, of course. But how much better will Strasburg get? Is there another level for him to reach, or is this pretty much who he’ll be the rest of his career? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but at the moment he’s a borderline All-Star and not in the conversation for “Best Pitcher in the Game.” Harper already is a two-time All-Star who appears merely to have scratched the surface of his true potential. I suppose there’s a slim chance he won’t ultimately realize it, but the odds are way in his favor. For some reason — and I’m not even sure I can articulate why — I’m not as convinced about Strasburg.
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
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